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Mauceri's final bow

Hollywood Bowl's genial, longtime conductor proved himself a master of many styles.

September 15, 2006|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

After 16 years as one of Hollywood's best tale-tellers and most versatile conductors, John Mauceri is moving on. This weekend, he leads his last concerts as music director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the band created for him in 1991. Then he's off to become chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.

Mauceri is known for his popular and eclectic programming, which shifts easily among classical, Broadway, movie, opera, rock and even country music. His comments from the stage have especially endeared him to many.

"John's legacy is the spectrum of innovation that he introduced, which defined what in other cities are called 'pops concerts' as so much more," said Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. "You wouldn't even call these 'pops concerts.' "

Yet rumors of Mauceri's discontent with Philharmonic management surfaced in a Times interview in 2001 in which he complained that the orchestra was not getting enough support. "We've always taken a back seat, existing only when the Phil permits us to exist, when they're on tour or unable to perform," he said then, adding that they see their "mission as keeping us alive, but at a level where we're not a threat."

Borda, who took over in 2000, said by phone: "That was almost seven years ago. The ongoing value of the relationship has been demonstrated by everyone ever since." She added that a search for a new director is underway, but "we'll take our time in figuring out the best way to appoint a successor."

Mauceri, 61, declined to revisit the past. "I came here 16 years ago to fill an empty space," he said in the studio of his Hollywood Hills home. "There was no mandate as to what would fill that space except that it would be a symphony orchestra. What it would be called, who played in it, what it played, was completely up to me.

"I just saw the logic of this venue, and the people and the history of the city -- which very few people were aware of who were here, not to mention people outside the city."

Among those he made aware of Los Angeles' musical history were his own musicians.

"John has the ability to take the Bowl, with its 18,000 people, and make it seem like you're in his living room," said drummer Brian Miller, the orchestra's personnel manager. "Compare him to Leonard Bernstein and the Young People's Concerts. For us on stage, we were learning too."

Bruce Dukov, the orchestra's concertmaster, said: "Sorry is not even a word that describes how sad we are at his going. There are always wonderful conductors out there, but to have someone with the complete package like John is very rare. He's so completely prepared and he has such a great attitude."

The Bowl orchestra was formed to complement the L.A. Philharmonic during its traditional summer season. With his broad interests, Mauceri was a natural to lead it.

The Yale graduate made his professional conducting debut with the L.A. Phil in 1974. Among the other orchestras he led were the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He also was music director of the Scottish Opera in Glasgow.

The Bowl post interested him, he told The Times in 2001, because "I would be leading a new orchestra celebrating the legacy of Los Angeles, Hollywood and Broadway, which no one else was doing."

Mauceri trademarks were evident the first time he took the podium in the Cahuenga Pass for a series of Independence Day fireworks concerts in 1991.

"The experience was a tumultuous one, long before the fireworks," Times reviewer John Henken wrote. "It was also a genuinely festive, celebratory experience, and a surprisingly communal one."

In his Bowl career, Mauceri conducted more than 300 concerts, took the orchestra on tour to Japan and Brazil and recorded 13 discs for Philips Classics. He staged Broadway musicals including "Showboat," "My Fair Lady" and "The Music Man," conducted operas such as "Aida" and "La Boheme," initiated popular film nights and brought in dance companies, including the Joffrey Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

In accepting the North Carolina post, he also resigned his position as music director of the Pittsburgh Opera, which he has held since 2000. But he won't be giving up conducting. In November, he'll go to the Chicago Lyric Opera to lead Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet," and he'll return to Leipzig in 2007 and 2008 to lead the Gewandhaus Orchestra, which he has conducted for seven consecutive seasons.

"The school expects me to continue to conduct," Mauceri says. "I said I could never do this job if I weren't conducting. I also said I could never do it if I were going to become an administrator filling out forms because I'd be the wrong person for the job."

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